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Moscow's Power-Grab in Latvia Repeats Lithuania

Soviet troops in Riga claim Latvians provoked them to take power

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A VIOLENT assault by Soviet special forces on the headquarters of the Latvian Interior Ministry in Riga late Sunday night provides dramatic evidence that the Baltic crisis is far from over. According to reports from Latvia, at least four people were killed and 10 injured when a unit of ``black berets,'' as the special Soviet Interior Ministry troops are called, made an attempt to seize the Latvian government building just after 9 p.m. local time. In a 90-minute gun battle in the center of the city, the troops seized several floors of the building, despite resistance from a small number of Latvian police inside. They withdrew after five hours of negotiations between Latvian Premier Ivar Godmanis and Soviet Interior Minister Boris Pugo in Moscow.

The reported victims of the attack included a Latvian television journalist and two Latvian policemen killed, and a Finnish television journalist and Soviet TV cameraman injured.

Although the precise circumstances of the attack are disputed, there is little question that the events in Latvia are following the pattern of Moscow- and Communist Party-inspired confrontation that led to the tragic bloodshed in Lithuania only a week before.

As in Lithuania, a Communist-controlled ``Salvation Committee'' has claimed to seize power, ousting a democratically elected nationalist government. And Soviet military forces have been deployed in a manner calculated to raise tensions and to justify the claims coming from Moscow that ``chaos'' in the Baltic republic requires the imposition of direct presidential rule.

The escalation of tension in Latvia came only hours after Russian democratic activists organized a massive demonstration in central Moscow, numbering at least 100,000, to protest the ``danger of dictatorship'' and express solidarity with the Baltic republics. The demonstration backed Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, who has emerged as the champion of all the republican governments against the dictates of the Kremlin.


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